Bobtown are a five piece folk/roots band who formed initially around the idea of recording some "new field hollers" written by vocalist/accordion player Katherine Etzel. Turned out nearly everyone else was a song writer too though. It is Etzel's "Take Me Down" which opens the album in fine gothic americana style - haunted banjo, spectral vocals, echoing percussion - and eerie religious lyrics "Take me down to the river where the work can be done/my poor soul to deliver by your hand I am gone". I fear that this is no ordinary baptism.
Sadly the following two tracks - "My Soul" and "Shadow of the mountain" - follow in the religious theme but far less successfully. In deference to "Take Me Down" I cling to a hope that the chorus of Jen McDearmen's "My Soul", a repeated "our soul, our soul", indicates (like McGuinn's "Peace on you") that the sentiment is tongue-in-cheek, but really I know it's as happy and as clappy as it sounds. Fred Stesney's "Shadow of the mountain" sounds as if it's floating out of a bluegrass revivalist tent. Things improve again with "Boomers Blues", another of Etzel's songs, whose mournful acapella opening of "hey hey the rain won't stop /been waiting for days to get the crop/cold forlorn we weather the storm/now it's time to go home" sounds like a suitably authentic field work song, but when the organ and banjo join in it takes on a gospel edge that reveals that home is probably way over Jordan. Etzel's clearly got the touch as her "When shall I go ?" also hits the spot whilst covering the same ground. McDearman redeems herself with the high pitched harmonies on the lilting good time sounding "Black Dog" - even though the lyrics are much darker and this is certainly no homely pooch : "late at night/in the dark/Black Dog/coming for ya". Fred Stesney (vocals and bass) also contributes another pair of songs - "Little bit of Livin' (Before I die)" is written as a sped up transplanted Irish ballad, and sung with Stesney's best Shane MacGowan impression. "We will bury you" is a far superior song - a return to the weird gothic feel of the album opener, drawing a funereal scene "we will bury you in all your finery/casket rolling by/blackened pageantry/we will bury you singing songs of praise/ symphonic elegy recounting all your days". The superb harmony singing really tickles the hairs at the back of the neck. As does Jen McDearmen's "Don't wake it up", which also hangs around late at night in a mist enshrouded old southern graveyard. Karen Dahlstrom's sole contribution is the fine stompy "Hell and gone", generously touched with country blues harp and documenting the adventures in life that are open "to a woman with a heart of stone". The band also do a version of the traditional "Short life of trouble" conveying the heartache and overwhelming misery inflicted by a faithless lover, which sits well alongside Bobtown’s own material. If you're looking for acoustic gothic-folk-americana kissed with gorgeous harmonies then look no further.